LIBRARY OF HOMILIES
December 5th - 2nd Sunday of Advent (English)
Dec. 12th NO HOMILY Fr. Bill McCarthy said mass for our Advent Mission
December 19th - 4th Sunday of Advent (English)
December 24th & 25th - Christmas (English)
December 26th - Holy Family (English)
2nd Sunday of Advent
Several years ago when I was out west I had the opportunity to walk along a section of the Oregon Trail. As you probably remember, the Oregon Trail was one of the routes taken by settlers heading west from Independence, Missouri to the Pacific. To this day there are a few places where you can still see some of the ruts from the thousands of wagons that made their way along this journey. At one point is a grave marker that details the death of John Henderson. His pack animals had died, so he had to walk the rest of the way. He tried to carry all of his possessions. He died of thirst, yet was only about a mile from a river. He didnít realize that he was that close. Maybe if he had let go of his possessions he might have had the strength to make it to the river.
The desert is a harsh place. It is a place that is unforgiving. If a person doesnít have adequate water he will die. If he doesnít bring enough food along, he will die. Israel was founded as a people in the desert. When God freed them from the hand of Pharaoh, the people were sent into the desert for forty years. It was there that they would be given the Law and make their first covenant to God. It was also in the desert that they would discover how much they needed God. They would soon run out of water. God would give them nourishment from the rock. Later when their food supply was gone God would feed them with manna and quail. They knew they were totally helpless without God. They would die if they turned their back on God. Many, in fact, did die on that journey. Yet, for those who persevered, the desert would lead into the Promised Land. All those who stayed faithful found the desert a place of intimacy with God.
Throughout Israelís history they would have other desert experiences. They were sent off into captivity in Assyria and Babylon. They witnessed the temple being destroyed. And again, when they were without hope God entered into the desert with them. He sent them an unlikely savior in Cyrus, the king of Persia. Cyrus would allow the Israelites to return home and rebuild their cities and temple.
Today we hear of another man of the desert, John the Baptist. He was a man who voluntarily went out into the desert. He would live by the providence of God and be transformed into Godís servant. Then, God would send him back into Israel to bring back the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He would be at the Jordan River baptizing all those who desired to live more fully in the way of the Lord. John brought condemnation on the rich and the self-assured. He proclaimed peace to the poor and lowly. He brought hope to all that would come to the river. For John proclaimed that God was about to visit His people and that He would come to bring salvation to the nations.
Advent is to be a desert season for us. We are called to let go of our possessions and seek out the strength that only God can provide. We await the return of Christ in glory. Will we be ready to welcome Him when He comes? I suspect that we find it hard to go out into the desert. We donít want to have to give up our security and our possessions. In fact, this is a time marked with desiring even more things. We find it hard to hear the Baptistís cry to repent and reform our lives.
Our conversions may take the form of significant changes. God may be calling us to change many things. If we have been unfaithful to him or to the commitments we make to our spouse and family, now is the time to be transformed. Now is the time to recommit to fidelity.
Maybe God is calling you to reorder your priorities. There is always a need for conversion of heart and spirit to doing the will of God over our own wills. We donít want to make room in our hearts for people who are different from ourselves. Maybe God is calling you today to love someone you find hard to love. It could be that there have been those you could not forgive. Now is the time to let go of anger and bitterness to accept the savior into your lives.
Prepare the way of the Lord by prayer and fasting. The time until the Lord comes may be long or short. But the delay of God is so that we might be transformed and renewed. Do not waste the time, but be renewed to accept the Lord. Amen.
4th Sunday of Advent
I believe that everybody wants to have a place they call home. Most of us are fortunate to have a nice home. We have pictures on the wall. We have our own bedroom where we have our clothes in closets and in dressers. If we share a room with a spouse or with a brother or sister we always look for a way to make part of that our own.
When a young person goes off to college and lives in a dorm or in an apartment they bring enough of their things with them so that it becomes their place. Even if itís only for a short time, we want to have a place of comfort. Sometimes when we travel on vacation and are staying in a motel or in a condominium we still spread out our things in a way to make it seem more like home. We want to have ďour stuffĒ available to make it seem like home.
I can understand why King David thought it necessary to make a home for God. When the people were wandering in the desert the meeting tent was the home for God. But now that the people were settled in Israel and had their comfortable homes it didnít seem right that Godís house was still a tent, still temporary. So, David decides to build a temple for God. Nathan the prophet believes that would be a good thing and tells David to go ahead with his plans.
God has another plan. He tells Nathan that David should not build a temple. Instead, God desires to have a home within the homes of His people. God will build a temple for David and then dwell with him. Our desire for a comfortable place and for something permanent isnít what God wants or needs. He wants to be with his people wherever they are. If people begin to believe that God can only be found in the temple they will think God has become distant and separate from them.
David doesnít build a temple. His son, Solomon, would build it. Just as the prophet had proclaimed to David, once the temple was built there was a noticeable distance between God and His people. Now the priesthood was established to enter into the sanctuary. The people would entrust their sacrifices and offerings to the priests. The priests determined who could offer sacrifice and what was acceptable. Likewise, people who lived far from Jerusalem could not go to the temple often. They realized they had a distance from God due to where they lived. Then, when the nation of Israel was split in two the distance was even greater.
God did not live exclusively in Jerusalem or in the temple. But, the people only could imagine that God would live in His home. Much like you and I, we feel most comfortable when we are at home, so too God must feel most comfortable in the temple in Jerusalem.
When the people were sent off into exile they really thought that God had abandoned them. It took the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah to let them know that God was with them even in Assyria and Babylon. Yet, they wondered how that could be. God lived in Jerusalem.
We as a people celebrate that God has come to dwell with His people forever in Jesus Christ. There is no longer any distance between God and us. Heaven and earth are united forever in an unbreakable bond through Jesus. The whole world paused in eager expectation when the Angel Gabriel came to the Virgin of Nazareth. He announced to Mary that God had a plan to reunite all people to Himself and that Mary would be the agent to bring that unity. Would she agree? Her yes heralded a new beginning. Her willingness to commit to the power of God changed humanity.
All of us know of Maryís yes. We know that God dwells with His people in Jesus. Our Church celebrates the intimate union between God and us at each Mass. There the elements of earth are made holy. The Holy Spirit transforms bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Just as surely as the Holy Spirit could bring forth the Body of Christ in the womb of Mary, so too on every altar and in every heart Christ comes to dwell. That is the awesome mystery of Christmas. We are the temples of the Holy Spirit. We now are the dwelling place of God. But do we believe it?
My fear is that so many people live in loneliness and bitterness. Too many people do not believe that God dwells with them. They donít know it or hear it from us. We are the ones to bring that message to them. As we heard this past week, it is Christ who heals all loneliness, fear, and a bad self-image. For if Christ lives within us we are precious indeed. Now is the time to make the home of Christ a fitting place. Now is the time to recognize Godís presence in everyone we meet. Amen
This is one of those years that Christmas doesnít get a lot of notice. Most people are more concerned or more interested in what will occur a week from now. New Yearís Day will either confirm the fears of those who have predicted chaos or it will be a big disappointment. Most of us are at least a bit concerned about whether the things we own will work properly after the calendar changes. Retailers naturally wanted a big Christmas. This is the most important time of the year for big stores. Some merchants make one third of their profit for the year in the month before Christmas. Yet, even there, they are concerned about whether their shops will function. Will the cash registers work? They wonder if they will be able to pay their employees or use their credit card checking devices on January first.
For us who are Christians this can seem very disappointing. We begin the Jubilee Year. We herald the birth of the savior. We proclaim Good News from God to all creation. The very reason the calendar will even matter is because it is counted time from the birth of Christ. So, how is it that so little time or emotion seems to get placed on Christ?
I suppose it is disappointing to think that many people will go through this day with only a passing glance at the reason for the holiday. Equally disappointing will be the many people who will discard their Christmas trees and take down their lights next week. But I suppose in another way, all of this is very much in harmony with the first Christmas.
When Jesus was born there wasnít a lot of notice given to it. In fact, beyond the families of Mary and Joseph I would guess that no one noticed. According to the scriptures, Mary had her child not in the comfort of her home or with the support of her relatives to help her. Instead, the event took place in a cave or stable. She would have to go through this delivery without the normal support that should have been given.
The civil and religious leaders of that day would not have known about this birth either. As we will hear in our readings on Epiphany, Herod who lived only a few miles away in Jerusalem didnít have any idea that a king was to be born in his land. People went about their business more worried about whether they could make some money on all the travelers that were going back to their ancestral homes to register for the census.
Jesus would grow up in almost complete obscurity until he reached the age of thirty. Then he would begin his ministry of preaching and healing. He would call disciples to help him. These men were not the influential people of Jerusalem, but fishermen and tax collectors. When Jesus died, he was condemned as a criminal and was mourned by his mother and some other women. Who would of thought anything more of this person born so long ago?
Even the way in which Jesus preferred to be remembered seems insignificant. He chose bread and wine in the context of a meal. He took these simple elements and forever transformed them. He told his disciples that when they shared this meal he would be present. Every time we celebrate Eucharist Christ is present in the same simple food. In a few minutes we will take bread and wine. We will pray the words that Christ gave us and we know that He will be with us.
The mystery of Christmas 2000 years ago or the mystery of Christmas today is the same. Many will never notice that Christ has come into the world. Many will be about their business and be oblivious to the miracle that God chose to live among us.
We too could choose to have a wonderful time today with our family and friends. We could have a great meal, exchange gifts, and Monday go back to our lives not changed a bit. Christ has come into the world not just to give us a day off work. He came to bring us joy and eternal life. This is Good News. Let the world know it. Shout it from the mountaintops. The way the world ever heard about what occurred in Bethlehem is that believers told them of it. They heard the Good News through the apostles and those that followed after them. We now are the believers to share our hope with the waiting world. In this year of Jubilee let everyone know that we are joyful because God has visited His people. Amen.
Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol about a hundred years ago. Most of us have seen this story or some version of it during the holidays. In that story Ebenezer Scrooge is faced with his life. He is shown that he will soon be sent to hell if he doesnít change. In the series of past, present, and future Christmases he is shown that the love of family is far more important than the wealth and privilege that his business provided him.
Scrooge believes that he is content in his self-induced hermitage. He doesnít like people bothering him. He finds most people an annoyance. He also canít understand why there is a need to take off from work to celebrate a silly holiday like Christmas. Scrooge canít imagine what the value of that could be. He will soon find out.
In the journeys the ghosts take him, he sees that at one time there was a love in his life, but when that is lost, he seeks solace in money and possessions. Later, he learns that his employee, Bob Crachit is a happy man not because he has lots of money, a steady job, or the possibility of wealth. Instead, he has the love and respect of his family and the closeness that is shared by people who love one another. Despite his sonís illness, despite his poverty, despite his demanding boss, Crachit knows there is more to life. He has discovered the secret of life has to do with kindness, compassion, and love. That is something Scrooge had forgotten.
Later in the journey he expects to find that many people will be sad at his passing and think of him as a noble man who offered jobs to many and helped the local economy. Instead he discovers that all are cheering on his grave that finally he is dead and they can be free of their indebtedness to him. This is a terrible shock.
Luckily for him, his life is not over. He has a chance to make a difference. He can begin to live a new way based on the knowledge he has found. One can only guess whether he changed for good and would become a loving and generous man. The story closes with that hope.
You and I have been given a vision of what life can look like. We have the Holy Family as models of love and grace. We see in our scriptures what human life should look like. We can see that if we take on the mind of Christ and have his word dwell in our hearts we will respond with generous love to those around us. We are reminded that what makes life meaningful is service for and to others. Anna and Simeon stand as examples of faith. Despite their age or their lack of standing in society they remain faithful to God. They become the first disciples. They have been given a promise from God that they will see salvation for their people. When Jesus is brought to the temple they know that God has been faithful to their promise. It would have been easy to give up. They were old people. It would have been just as likely that they could have seen the world around them and decided God didnít follow through on His promises. They didnít do that. They knew that God was alive and that He cares deeply for His people.
Our lives may not look like the vision of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We may think that the sins and fractures we see within our families and around us give us no reason to hope. It might seem that God doesnít care or is distant from his people. We could easily become like Ebenezer Scrooge and give up on life and love.
Yet, the power of Christ is stronger than any sins and weaknesses that we experience. Christís peace can overcome indifference, malice, and bitterness. Where we might be inclined to seek harm to another we now seek mercy and patience.
When you look at your families and try to see that which is good about them, what do you see? I would suspect that it could have been a time when your spouse saw goodness in you even when you couldnít see it. It might have been when you stuck together in difficult economic times or maybe when one of your family was caught up with addiction and you didnít give up. It was during these times and others like them that you saw what is really valuable and important. You donít need to take a trip with ghosts to see that which is valuable in life. We have the power of the Word. We have the example of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We have the faithful witness of Anna and Simeon. We have the love and compassion of members of our own community gathered here today as living signs.
No matter what your station in life you are called to be a faithful witness. If you are a senior citizen you can provide help and guidance to younger families. If you are a teen or a child, your energy and excitement can be a sign of hope to someone who is grieving or alone. Healthy families can reach out to engaged couples showing them a vision of what could be as opposed to what is seen in society. Today is our feast. We are the holy families of God bringing hope to our world.